We see the same homeless guy every time we go to the grocery store. He stands with his sign—I couldn’t tell you what it says—just by the exit, where you’d have to be blind to miss him.
“What does his sign say?” my kids used to ask. I’d read it to them and they would ask me why I wasn’t giving him any money. I explained that when I lived in New York I saw a lot of panhandlers take advantage of kind, generous people, and then—I did this, I really did—I repeated the exact words my mother used to say to me to explain away her own guilt:
“We don’t give money to beggars because we don’t know how they’ll spend the money.”
As if we were the Royal Arbiters of Good Sense, and if only they could prove they were going to use our hard-earned money to buy vegetables or a sensible blue-chip stock (and not, heaven forbid, drugs or booze because we’d never do that), we’d happily stroke a check on the spot.
As if begging was an easy way to earn a buck.
Today as we were leaving the very same store, the homeless guy was there. Only this time he wasn’t a guy at all; he was a woman. Maybe even a girl. A pretty girl, with her arm in a cast. A pretty, homeless girl with a broken arm.
“Anything helps. God bless.” That’s what her sign said.
Almost without thinking, I grabbed some bills out of my wallet and rolled down the window.
“Anything helps,” she said, bowing slightly and taking the crumpled bills I was offering. “God bless.”
Did a man do that to her, a jealous, angry boyfriend? I wondered. Was she forced to leave a decent job because of the broken arm—a courtesy I probably wouldn’t have offered to a man with his arm in a cast. Was the cast even real, or was it just a sympathy ploy? Did I give her money just because she was a girl? Or because she was a pretty homeless girl with a broken arm? And was the homeless guy who was usually there not a guy at all, but a dozen or more different guys whose faces I’d never bothered to look at?
I honestly have no idea. But I am still thinking about her.